Friday, June 17, 2011
Size does matter
The Grand Palais is grand. How do you make it even grander? Insert a biblical sea monster, Anish Kapoor says.
For this year's Monumenta, the Indian-born British artist fills the glass-domed nave of Grand Palais with a giant inflatable sculpture titled "Leviathan." I am so glad that I made the trip to Paris, because this is definitely one of the most powerful artwork I've seen in recent years.
Through the revolving doors, visitors are ushered into a womb-like space flooded in vibrant red. "We are inside the beast," a friend says. Three pods extend in three directions, but you can't really tell how far they go. The eerie lighting condition and the monochromic environment cancel out the sense of depth. When the sun throws shadows of the metal roof structure onto the thin rubbery membrane, you start to read more clearly the curvy geometry, and the space takes on a different expression. But still, everything remains mysterious.
The exterior deserves a louder "wow" - this is huge! If the interior is more about the ambiguous atmosphere of a void, the outside is an enormous presence right in front of your eyes. Larger than the trumpet at the Tate 9 years ago, this new piece is 35-meter tall - almost reaching the roof. It uses 72,000 square meters of surface material, and weighs 18 tons. People look like ants around it, and at the same time, the super smooth purple surface makes the sculpture scaleless. I guess that's why most of my photos look like model shots.
Size not only gives strong visual impacts but also allows physical interactions. Walking around the structure, you feel the dynamics of the shape. This odd three-legged creature forms tangential spaces and arches, and creates interesting in-between spaces together with the Grand Palais envelope. There is sharp contrast between the plain surface of the balloon and the ornate Art Nouveau stairs and balcony, but the two co-exist in harmony.
Leviathan is immersive both in the physical and mental dimensions. It's experiential, and emotions give richness to the singularity of the physical form. Words or photos don't do justice - it is pre-language and beyond language. Anish Kapoor often says, "I have nothing to say." I guess we shouldn't intellectualize his work too much. In front of the immense and immersive sculpture in Grand Palais, words cease to have meanings.